White Acre Road called dangerous for students


White Acre Road in Columbia's Oakland Mills village has a school crossing guard at each end. For Talbott Springs Elementary School students, the danger lies in the quarter-mile in between.

Community leaders say the two crossing guards -- one at Thunder Hill Road, the other at Stevens Forest Road -- are not enough to provide safety for students who often cross between the two designated crossing zones, including at White Acre and Basket Ring roads.

This intersection is particularly dangerous because White Acre curves as it rises over a small hill, limiting the visibility of crossing students to motorists.

"I am pleased, but amazed that no one has been in an accident," said David Hatch, chair of the Oakland Mills Village Board.

However, there have been some close calls on the street, where the posted speed limit is 25 mph, he said.

In one incident in February, a truck nearly struck youngsters crossing the street.

Mr. Hatch and others are working to improve the dangerous situation before school resumes in September.

"Our concern is just to do whatever is necessary to make the area safe," he said.

But there's a debate about what's the best solution.

Mr. Hatch said he and the village board have asked the county Department of Public Works to install flashing traffic lights or rumble strips on the road to alert and slow motorists.

They also would like to have a third crossing guard to help students crossing in the middle of the street.

But flashing lights, which would cost from $25,000 to $40,000, may not be the solution, said C. Edward Walter, chief of the county's traffic engineering division.

"Frankly at this time I don't have an answer for you," Mr. Walter said. "I can tell you, flashing lights at schools do not slow traffic."

As with stop signs, motorists often disobey flashing lights, Mr. Walter said.

He agreed that traffic on White Acre Road needs to be slowed.

But, he said, the best way would be to narrow the street or install a median.

He said his department probably will complete a study of the situation within about a month.

Deborah Washington, crossing guard supervisor for the county police department, suggested that another crossing guard be posted between the two intersections now served by guards.

Until a decision is made, she asked teachers to help guide students home during dismissal.

"We don't want to wait for something to happen," Mrs. Washington said.

Thomas J. Brown, principal of the 430-student school, agreed.

"We just need something to slow the traffic down," Mr. Brown said. "We have had some narrow escapes."

The problem has existed for years, said Mr. Brown, who is retiring at the end of this month.

Today is the last day of this school year.

To guarantee the children's safety, he and other members of the school's staff have been directing students to cross at the designated crosswalks.

They also have asked students and their parents not to cross in the middle of the street, Mr. Brown said.

"We also know that many of our kids live across the street, so they are going to do it," he said, referring to an apartment complex directly across from the school.

On Friday, when school was dismissed early, an adult and two children --ed across the street to a Toyota parked on the other side.

That kind of street-crossing should be avoided, said parent Belinda Adoo, who parked in front of the school to pick up her child.

"I think parents should be actively responsible as far as their kids' safety" is concerned, she said, grabbing the hand of her toddler and hurrying toward the school.

Standing near a crossing guard at White Acre and Thunder Hill roads, fifth-grader Janese Thomas, 10, said: "It's kind of dangerous because when the cars are running down, kids cross the street and don't look."

Her friend, Tiara Whitehead, 11, added, "I don't think it's safe, because if you don't really pay attention you might get hit by a big truck."

At the opposite end of the street -- at White Acre and Stevens Forest roads, the second designated crossing zone -- crossing guard Dolores Turner said the best thing would be to get another crossing guard to direct traffic in the middle of the street.

"I've seen a couple of near misses," she said, holding a large red stop sign.

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